“And with the 285th pick of the 1985 NFL draft the Los Angeles Rams select, Heisman trophy winner, Doug Flutie.”
Since the NFL and AFL merger was completed in 1970 only 8 Heisman trophy winners have been drafted outside of the first two rounds. Of these 8 players, only one has been drafted outside of the first 10 rounds. That honour belongs to Boston College’s Doug Flutie.
Flutie’s football career was never an easy one. Graduating from high school, only one Division I-A school had recruited him. That school was Boston College, where he would be coached by the great Tom Coughlin. At a glance, Flutie’s stats in college don’t exactly jump out. His first season saw him throw 10 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, the following season 13 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Flutie’s rise to fame came during his final year with Boston College. He would go on to have his highest completion (60.4%), yardage (3,454 yards) and touchdown to interception ratio (27-11). However, his most notably caught the attention of the nation in the 1984, when Boston College Hurricanes came up against the University of Miami Hurricanes. And the moment. The Hail Flutie.
“Flutie flushed, throws it down, caught by Boston College! I don’t believe it! It’s a touchdown!”
– CBS announcer, Brent Musburger.
November 23, 1984. Miami the defending champions ranked 12th against the 10th ranked Boston. With CBS televising national coverage the stage was set, but few would have predicted the classic that was about to unfold. The game was a case of two quarterbacks playing out of their skins. Two teams going at each other like two boxers exchanging punches. Boston managed to get out in front, but Miami led by QB Bernie Koser fought from behind in the dying moments of the game to take a 45-41 lead. Boston then picked up the ball inside their own 25-yard line with 28 seconds to go. You could forgive many for thinking this classic had come to an end. Boston had other ideas. Flutie connected with two passes to move the ball up to the 52-yard line, but with only 6 seconds left on the clock it would take something special. Up stepped Flutie.
The ball was snapped. Flutie dropped back deep, and avoiding pressure found himself back on his own 35 yard-line, before launching a bomb downfield. With three defenders, all airborne, the ball somehow found its way through the crowd to Gerard Phelan waiting in the end zone. Boston win the game, 47-45. An astonishing finish which led this game to go down as one of the most memorable matches of footballing history. Flutie finished the game with 473 yards and 4 touchdowns on his way to becoming the first quarterback in college history to throw over 10,000 yards. Not long after Flutie found himself winning the Heisman Trophy. A perfect ending to an unlikely College career.
“The biggest issue about the height factor is the bias that the NFL has about it.”
Even after his achievements in college, questions surrounded whether Flutie would be able to cut it in the professional leagues. Questions not necessarily about his talent, but rather his size. The average height of a QB in the NFL is a little over 6 foot 3. Doug Flutie is 5 foot 9. This led to a lot of speculation regarding how successful he could be. With all this uncertainty, the New Jersey Generals of the USFL saw an opportunity. The USFL were struggling to compete with the NFL and in need of a star. Flutie already had a buzz surrounding him and the Generals selected him during the USFL draft, which took place before the NFL draft. Up next was getting a deal done which would ensure Flutie would sign with them. In came the Generals owner, none other than Donald Trump. Trump offered Flutie a monster deal. Flutie would earn $7million over the course of 5 years, which now doesn’t seem a lot, but back in 1985 made him the highest paid football player in the professional leagues. Of course, he agreed.
Although Flutie had already signed his contract with the USFL before the NFL draft his rights were still up for grabs. Eventually the LA Rams selected him, deep in the draft, as the 285th pick. The first QB taken that year? Bernie Kosar (Albeit in the supplementary draft before Round 2 of the NFL draft).
“Flutie’s Salary May Be Big, but the USFL Is Thinking Small.”
– Associated Press, Dave Goldberg
Entering the USFL all eyes were on Flutie, would he prove the doubters wrong or fail and become another forgotten talent. Unfortunately, his USFL career was short lived and unsuccessful. In the passing game Flutie found himself with a completion percentage under 50 and more INTs than TDs, before getting injured and missing the rest of the season. This poor start went from bad to worse when the USFL folded at the end of the season.
Despite his availability, the Rams traded his rights to the Bears. Over the next 4 years Flutie would endure a tough time in the NFL with the Bears and Patriots. Average performances mixed in with criticisms for playing during the player strike had made his stint in the NFL a difficult one. He left after the 1989 season to move to the Canadian Football League (CFL).
“My first two years in the CFL, all I thought of was getting back to the NFL – it was like ‘I’ll put my time in up here and go back.’ Then I went and signed a nice contract in Calgary and was like, ‘Hey, I can make a living up here, this is great football, and I’m having a blast.”
– Doug Flutie
Over the next 8 years Flutie would go on to become one of the greatest ever players of CFL history. Spells at BC Lions, Calgary Stampeders, and Toronto Argonauts would see him win 3 Grey Cups, 3 Grey Cup MVPs, 6 times CFL Most Outstanding Player and 6 times a CFL All-Star. Like everything in Dougs career it wasn’t straight forward. His first season in the CFL with BC Lions would ultimately turn out to be underwhelming. Later on his career, he would state that he only though of a NFL return when he first arrived. When he realised he had it quite good and started to enjoy himself, everything changed. Over the next 7 seasons he in the CFL he would become one of the greatest players of the leagues history.
“I don’t care about age, I don’t care about height, I don’t care about how defensive coordinators say they can game-plan him easily. There’s an exception to every rule. Some guys are just football players, and Doug Flutie’s a football player who can help the Buffalo Bills.”
– Bills Personnel Director, AJ Smith
Despite his immensely impressive spell in the CFL, teams in the NFL were still reluctant to go near him. Five games into the 1998 season the Buffalo Bills signed Flutie. Despite them apparently not being interested originally, they took a chance on him thanks to some convincing by their then personnel director AJ Smith. When Rob Johnson, the starting QB, got injured Flutie’s time had come. Leading the Bills on a fourth-quarter comeback in his first game, the following game he was named starter. He would go on to finish the season with a record of 8-3, on his way to winning Comeback Player of the Year and being selected for his first and only Pro Bowl.
The following season Flutie guided the Bills to the playoffs with a 10-5 record. For the last game of the regular season Flutie was rested and Johnson came in. Johnson would go on to throw 24 of 32, 287 yards and 2TDs. A decision was then made to drop Flutie, despite his 10-5 record, for Johnson. A decision we would later found out was because the then coach, Wade Philips, was ordered by Bills owner Ralph Wilson to drop Flutie. Was this decision because Wilson felt Johnson was on form, was it due to Wilson doubting Flutie due to his physical stature, or was it because Johnson was the big money contract who the team wanted to be their starter? Either way Flutie surely would feel feel aggrieved. Bills would then go on to lose to Tennessee Titans in the playoffs, the Music City Miracle game. Bills have failed to make the playoffs since.
After the decision to drop Flutie it was clear Bills wanted to go with Johnson and he was named as starter for the 1999 season. Despite Flutie being the backup he outperformed Johnson in terms of wins that season. Flutie started 5 games that season with a record of 4-1, Johnson on the other hand ended with a 4-7 record. Still, the Bills chose to cut Flutie for the next season and keep Johnson as the starter.
Over the next 5 seasons Flutie would spend his time backing-up Drew Brees in San Diego and Tom Brady in New England. He would announce his retirement at the age of 43. During the spell before his retirement he saw himself become the oldest ever player to score a TD. He also would go on to rush for more yards (212) and score more rushing touchdowns (4TD) than any other player has after the age of 40.
“It’s my whole life of being the little guy and having a little chip on my shoulder, from year to year trying to prove myself, and at the end of the day to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame is a very special honor for me.”
Even with the odds stacked against him Flutie had an incredible career, leading to him being selected into the College Football Hall of Fame, Canadian Football Hall of Fame and even the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, as the first non-Canadian Inductee. He’s also probably one of the most popular people to play the game.
Wherever you stand on Doug Flutie’s Hall of Fame credentials there is no denying the drive and heart he showed to achieve what he has done in the sport. Constantly being underestimated and underappreciated with a point to prove. A true inspiration and a true professional.
The final question and the unwritten part of Flutie’s career is the coveted Pro Football Hall of Fame. Some would argue he failed to achieve enough in the NFL for this, personally I fall on the other side of the argument. It’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not NFL. Flutie always had a point to prove in his career. The small guy whose skills were constantly underestimated. He would go on to play professional football for 21 years, in 3 different professional leagues, where he would go on to win team titles, individual titles, and set records. To quote Mark Kreidler of The Sacramento Bee.
“How much more pro is a guy supposed to get?”